International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Mankind Evolving: The Evolution of the Human Species

by Theodosius Dobzhansky

Introductory Essay by Makarand Paranjape

Re-reading this book nearly fifty years after its publication, one can only be struck by how humane, reasonable, and current it still remains. Published just after the sit-ins, freedom rides and other forms of Civil Rights protests in what was still a largely racist United States, Theodosius Dobzhansky tackled difficult subjects such as race, class, caste, equality, even homosexuality, from the evolutionary biologist’s perspective. In all of his discussions, one sees the scientific approach at its best: a fierce quest for truth coupled with an uncompromising intolerance of humbug, pseudo-science, and prejudice.

The singular theme in this book is the proportional importance of genotype or “all self-reproducing bodily constituents” [40] that make up our biological inheritance, and phenotype or the totality of what can be “observed or inferred about an individual, excepting only his genes” [41-42] in determining and explaining human nature. It is Dobzhansky’s finely discriminating balancing act between these two in discussions on a variety of topics of vital interest to us that produces the wisdom embodied by this book.

Dobzhansky came to the United States from Ukraine when he was already twenty-seven. Though he did not have a doctorate, he was tenured at some of the best institutions in the country including Cal. Tech., Columbia, and Rockefeller University. According to a tribute by his student, Francisco J. Ayala, he was a man of incredible energy and excellent work habits, who left behind 568 titles at the time of his death in 1975.

What distinguished Dobzhansky was his wide range of interests in the arts, history, cultural anthropology, philosophy, and religion – beside, of course, his specialization in genetics and evolutionary biology. It is this breadth of knowledge and enduring curiosity that make Mankind Evolving such a good read, even today.

Originally delivered as the Silliman Foundation lectures at Yale University in 1959, this book is Dobzhansky’s own unique way of illustrating “the presence and providence of God as manifested in the natural and moral world” – the stated object with which the lecture series was founded. Dobzhansky was a Darwinist, who believed that human nature could be understood properly only in the light of evolution, not of theology or religion. Yet, in our very self-consciousness, which allows us to be aware of our own role in evolution, Dobzhansky saw a deeper, even providential design. No wonder his book ends with the words of Teilhard de Chardin, whom he called “inspiring” [2], though he considered some of the Catholic theologian’s pronouncements to be “patently undemonstrable by scientifically established facts” [348].

Mankind Evolving remains current even today as, in Ayala’s words, “an unsurpassed synthesis of genetics, evolutionary theory, anthropology, and sociology”.